Social Travel-Planner Site Gtrot Pivots Into A Local Discovery Tool

Last year Gtrot launched as a friendly social-sourced travel advice site. It grew, not especially quickly, but definitely. As it spread, its members came from around the U.S. and across the world. And now, demonstrating how quickly the life of a web-based company can evolve or change dramatically, it's completely pivoting around and facing the other direction. Now Gtrot is a local discovery platform, because travel is what happens when you leave your front door.

According to its press release, the new Gtrot has a "new focus on local discovery, offering a social platform where users can find and share the best restaurants, nightlife, arts, events, deals, and other experiences in their own backyard." The site still uses its customers' social graph to build its database, and also "gathers local data—including venues, deals, events and activities—from dozens of sources and creates a single stream of trending content for users to search and explore."

Think of it as a kind of hyperlocal Twitter with a status feed populated by stuff that's going on around where you are right now. You can even make "collections," equating to lists in Twitter, of favorite venues events and so on, and you can follow friends, "tastemakers and brands to discover trusted local recommendations."

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Cofounder Zach Smith explained to Fast Company what happened after their mid-2011 launch. "Our travel-planning product gave user recommendations for night life, deals, events, and other categories of things to to do at their destination. We used all this social data like check-ins and likes to figure out what we should recommend to each user. What we found, early this year, was that almost half our users were using that to explore their home city—sort of finding recommendations for things to do this weekend. They weren't traveling per se, but still found recommendations very helpful. What we realized then was what we'd developed wasn't actually a travel discovery tool, but rather a local discovery tool."

When your userbase sends you such a clear message, it's probably wise to listen to them—and that's what Gtrot has done. "It's really a completely new product, it's a somewhat similar user experience and we've adapted some of our technology," says Smith, "but it's a very different feel." As for the moment when the pivot became necessary, Smith noted "It was definitely a kind of 'aha!' moment," tapping into the idea that travel is what happens when you leave your home. And it makes a huge amount of sense—people only travel three or four times a year, but they spend so much time at home that Gtrot could get much more user traffic by targeting people's local events scene.

Of course, being petite (with around 20,000 users) makes it easier to pivot, but Gtrot is quite definitely being agile. It's also got its eye on the future. "A lot of our development and iteration is driven by user data that we track really closely, we obviously follow the market, and we look at what interface and user experiences are really resonating with users," says Smith. Pinterest is an example of a site Smith is watching, but he's also open to ideas like Google's Glass AR goggles project—a platform which would be perfect for exposing Gtrot-like data. A 180-degree pivot is also easier when you've got some money behind you to pay for the transition—something Gtrot has thanks to a cash injection from Groupon-backers Lightbank late last year.

Hats off to the company for rejigging its mission so fast, while retaining its slightly boutiquey feel—compared to the blander, flatter social recommendations you get from bigger enterprises like Yelp. And as Instagram has just proved, boutique can be a key to super-fast success.

[Image: Flickr user yourdon]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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